Proposed boundary change spurs uncertainty in Yellowknife Bay

The future of Jolliffe Island and houseboats moored near its shores is uncertain, but city officials and Yellowknives Dene say it's too early to speculate on particular plan for the island.

As city of Yellowknife and Yellowknives Dene First Nation contemplate shifting boundary, some are wary

Jolliffe Island (left) is under an interim land withdrawal through the Akaitcho Process, forming part of the rationale to exclude it from a proposed redrawn municipal boundary, said Mayor Rebecca Alty. (Sara Minogue/CBC)

As the city of Yellowknife floats the idea of moving its boundary to exclude Jolliffe Island, there is uncertainty about what that means for houseboaters in the area and island occupants.

The city and the Yellowknives Dene First Nation (YKDFN) are jointly proposing a land swap that would see Ndilo, Jolliffe Island the the eastern shoreline approaching Detah removed from the city boundary. 

The city needs land — the boundary change would expand the city's southwestern boundary — and Yellowknives Dene want their communities to be more connected.

While both the city and First Nation are on board with the swap, some houseboaters of wary of its implications for them.

"There is animosity, there is phobia, there's fear," said Matthew Grogono, a long-time houseboater. 

"Is it going to be for the better or for the worse? I would rather work with Ernest Betsina … than the former mayors and city of Yellowknife," he said. 

Houseboater Matthew Grogono says he's optimistic about a potential boundary shift and that he would be open to Yellowknives Dene presiding over the bay's Jolliffe Island. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

Jolliffe Island is under an interim land withdrawal through the Akaitcho Process, said Mayor Rebecca Alty. 

"If it's approved in their final agreement, that will be Akaitcho land. With the discussion on the boundary it only made sense to include Ndilo, Jolliffe, since both are Akaitcho in the YKDFN territory," said Alty.

The city has to observe a municipal boundary policy that states the boundary must be continuous, she said.

Ndilo Chief Ernest Betsina says it's early days and that YKDFN has no plans for the island yet. 

The city and the First Nation must first apply to the territorial government regarding the proposal, which will trigger consultations. 

'Move forward in a new way'

The houseboat community is a popular tourist attraction and part of Yellowknife's culture, but has been "in a tenuous situation since day one," said Coun. Julian Morse after Monday's meeting.

"At the same time … it's important to me that we move forward in a new way. There is a side of the history of this town that's been colonial that has involved essentially westerners coming into this community and doing whatever they wanted without asking any permission whatsoever," he said. 

The city and the Yellowknives Dene should collaborate and decide what should be preserved and how the land should be used to avoid possible conflicts, he said. 

A 'hassle' for city, says houseboater

Houseboater Gary Vaillancourt says the city's failure to talk to houseboaters about a potential boundary change leaves Yellowknife at odds with the floating community. (CBC)

Houseboater Gary Vaillancourt says he is "puzzled" that the city is drawing a line in the water without speaking to occupants. 

"[The city] can hand Jolliffe Island over easily because they know it's a huge hassle," said Vaillancourt.

"We were never brought into the process ever," he said. "It was all quick rush and nobody knows anything about it until the last minute."

He says he wants the city to work with its floating neighbours on a plan. 

"Houseboaters are ignored as some kind of scum squatters and the city could do a lot to help houseboaters out. We get nothing from these people and they expect us to toe the line. They should start recognizing the houseboats are a valuable contributor to Yellowknife," he said.

The mayor said she has yet to hear any concerns from houseboaters or occupants of the island. She said the city didn't consult them because the land falls under the Akaitcho process. The Yellowknives Dene wanted to have the boundary settled before the Akaitcho agreement-in-principle is signed, she said. 

Alty said the city has no lease agreements with anyone living on Jolliffe Island.